It was once a buyer’s favourite and, after a six-year absence, the Pulsar is back with an all-new model

For all the right reasons, certain car names have embedded themselves in Australian motorists’ memories over the years. We learned to trust Laser, Torana, Lancer, Corolla, Commodore and Valiant and lamented those that disappeared. After the Pulsar sold here for almost 25 years and became a buyers’ favourite, Australian car industry observers were dismayed when Nissan dumped the nameplate in favour of a global moniker, Tiida. And while the Tiida was a competent small car, it had about as much appeal as its curious name suggested.

After a six-year absence it’s Welcome Back Pulsar in an all-new model launching at the end of January. The new Pulsar arrived initially as a sedan, but a hatchback launched mid-year with the iconic SSS sports version in the line-up.

The Pulsar and several other new models due out this year show Nissan, once one of Australia’s five local manufacturers, is now strongly re-established as a pure importer.

It has a large range, from one of the world’s fastest sports cars to a cheap city car and tough off-roaders. It sold almost 80,000 vehicles here last year, a record example of the ongoing loyalty Australian drivers hold for the make.

Where it fits
As a small car, the Pulsar will be shopped against other volume-sellers such as the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 (Australia’s most popular vehicle in 2012), Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Holden Cruze, Hyundai i30, Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer, plus a few lower-volume European imports. It’s a buyer’s market with astonishing choice and fiercely contested by the dealers.

The sedan is Pulsar’s more conservative option. It’s practical and roomy, but those looking for a little more visual excitement might wait for the hatchback in mid-year. And if the turbocharged SSS is on the comeback list, what are the odds of a return also of the Pulsar Q hatch, traditionally a popular fun package?

Prices start from $19,990 for an ST Pulsar (plus on-road costs), which is $1000 more than the superseded base Tiida. And while the Tiida topped-out at $24,240, buyers can spend $28,990 on a top-shelf Pulsar Ti.
But this is a substantially different car for the money, bigger, roomier, more shapely, more sophisticated and more grown-up.

What it’s got
There is one engine, so far, a 1.8 litre petrol four-cylinder producing 96 kiloWatts of power and 174 Newtonmetres of torque. The forthcoming SSS will be a 1.6 turbo. The 1.8 is matched to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a CVT automatic in the ST and ST-L grades. The top-line Ti comes only in auto.

The variable-ratio CVT introduces the innovation of high and low gear ranges – similar in principle to a four-wheel drive off-road transmission – which allow better use of the engine power for improved performance and efficiency. The gearbox will operate in low range for acceleration but high range when cruising. At 100km/h, high range reduces engine speed to just 1700rpm – around 1000rpm less than other cars run in top gear – resulting in lower fuel consumption.

The basic fit-out is mostly standard for this segment and includes six airbags, anti-skid brakes and electronic stability control in every model. But the Ti, in keeping with the sedan’s substantial looks, has big-car features in a small-car package – for example, leather seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless ignition, navigation and a reversing camera.

The Pulsar’s crash protection rating had not been announced, but a search of the company website reveals it has achieved four out of five stars.

On the road
The Pulsar was so new at the time of this report it was not available for bmag to test. However, Nissan says the car has a longer cabin than its key rivals and many mid-sized family vehicles. With 1370mm of shoulder width, three passengers can sit with their legs crossed. Boot space is a generous 510 litres and explains why booted sedans are favoured over hatchbacks by many small-car buyers.

A wind resistance figure of 0.30Cd (co-efficient of drag) is low and helps keep down fuel consumption, Nissan says. Attention has been paid to smoothing the underside of the vehicle.

The automatic’s driveability and economy is aided by a so-called Smooth Start Assist control, which allows jerk-free modulation of the accelerator. “Smart Revolution Control” keeps engine speed constant even if a driver operates the accelerator pedal roughly under gentle acceleration, while it also irons out irregularities of vehicle speed on undulating roads. Nissan hopes this small innovation will give it an edge in refining the driving experience.

Specifications
Prices: ST manual $19,990, auto $22,240; ST-L manual $23,650, auto $25,900; Ti auto $28,990; plus on-road costs.
Engines: Petrol four-cylinder 1.8 litre, 96kW, 174Nm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or CVT automatic.
Fuel consumption: Not tested at time of publication.
Wheels: ST and ST-L alloy 16inch, Ti alloy 17inch.
Dimensions: Length 4615mm, width 1765mm, height 1495mm, wheelbase 2700mm, weight from 1257kg.

Prices quoted do not include statutory and dealer on-road charges unless otherwise stated. Prices correct at time of writing.